Jennifer David on St. Richard School
Jennifer David is the new principal at St. Richard Catholic School. David has 22 years of experience as a school administrator in Mississippi, and she has already started off the new school year with positive changes for students, parents and teachers. David has a bachelor’s in elementary education and teaching from Mississippi University for Women and a master’s in educational leadership from Marymount University. Sun Staff Writer Megan Phillips spoke with David about coming to St. Richard and what all she has planned for the 2017-2018 school year.
You started this year as principal at St. Richard Catholic School, correct?
“I did. In July.”
Were you a teacher at St. Richard before you became head of school?
“No. I lived in Meridian for the past three years and was the principal at St. Patrick Catholic School. Before that, I spent 18 years in Columbus at the Catholic school there.”
What are your plans for your first year?
“Overall, in a nutshell, to be available and supportive for teachers and parents — to support parents in their job as first educators of their children, and to support teachers in their role that they play here at the school in making that partnership between the parents and the school. We want to strengthen the school community, give lots of opportunities for parents to get to know each other and to feel connected to the school.”
Are you making any specific changes?
“We’re updating our STREAM (science, technology, religion, engineering, arts and math) lab. We’re already a whole school for the arts, so the ‘A’ has been important to us as well because we want to continue our focus on integrating the arts. We have remodeled (the lab) — a total renovation this summer. So, we’re trying to make it more of a school-wide emphasis on STREAM. We already do the religion and the arts, so it seemed like a natural fit to make that more centered around what we already do.”
Why did you want the job as St. Richard’s head of school?
“It’s like a dream, truly a dream that I’m here. I keep thinking that someone is going to pinch me and I’m going to wake up. When I was in Columbus all those years, we kind of partnered with St. Richard and some of the teachers would come here and visit and learn and just ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ over how wonderful this school was. So, I’ve always thought, ‘Maybe one day, a big school in Jackson.’ Jackson was just, wow. That I’m even in Jackson, that’s just crazy to me. A huge town just full of opportunities, and it’s such a strong Catholic base already with lots of other people of other faiths that just make this such a great place. So, when the opportunity presented itself, I said, ‘God, I’m just going to apply, and then you do the rest, if this is what you want me to do.’ So, here I am.”
As principal, what is priority number one?
“Well it was to get through the first day of school. Now that we’ve gotten the first day checked off the list, we brought back our lunch program this year through MMI Catering. So, we have done some work in the cafeteria to just update it, make it look fresh again. We’re still working out the logistics of the lunch program. That’s one of the immediate things we’re (working on).”
What is the lunch program?
“They have two choices each day. The classic hot lunch that’s served cafeteria style, and then the cardinal feeder lunch bucket, which is more of a cold option if they don’t like the hot choice. So, like a sandwich or a wrap or burger sliders. It’s been really good, we’ve had great feedback the first two days of school…”
Will students, faculty and parents notice any of your changes immediately?
“Yes. They have already noticed a sense of warmth and commitment to Catholic education and to strengthening us as a school community — parents, teachers. We had a great week last week with the teachers and staff. They are very glad to have support from the administrator and to know that they can come to me; they’re not alone, and they have someone that can listen, help, support, and do those things an administrator would do.”
How has education changed since you started 22 years ago?
“Obviously with technology. We did have some computers, but none of the hand-held devices, nothing like what we’re using today. Technology — the smartboards and the iPads — have revolutionized teaching. But what’s interesting is that we’re still not truly using the technology to the capacity that we could… There’s a lot more out there that we can do and use it to connect globally with other classrooms. There’s so much potential out there.
“Things are also more integrated into a STREAM project, where you’re using multiple disciplines at the same time. I remember learning that in college, but it really has strengthened in the last 20 years, just more of the integration of all subjects to make it more real-world applicable… Now I’m trying to show students how they can use these things in a real-world situation…
“The other thing is working together. You hear a lot more conversation in classrooms these days, which is a good thing… (A noisy classroom) is the sign of a great classroom, unless it’s total chaos, because your students are talking to each other, they’re working together, they’re collaborating together, and that’s what they’re going to have to do in the real-world environment. They’re going to have to work closely with other peers, and that’s an important skill I think we have really worked on in education.”
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in school administration?
“To say what I mean, and mean what I say. I had somebody tell me that early on, and that’s always stuck with me. It wasn’t always so easy, it’s never easy really. It definitely was not easy in the beginning… I’ve also learned what battles to choose. Choose your battles wisely.”
What are the biggest challenges facing St. Richard right now?
“I would think anywhere right now in non-public schools, the bottom line is always enrollment — retaining students and recruiting new students. There’s a lot of competition in the bigger Jackson-metro area, so we have hired a new development director. We’re really trying to strengthen our relationship with all the area newspapers. So, enrollment is always a big concern because that drives your funding. It’s not your only source of funding but it’s the biggest.”
What’s been positive about your experience at St. Richard so far?
“Everyone has been so welcoming and so helpful and so supportive, and that has made the transition so much better. I just hope to provide the support for the parents and the teachers. They have shown that support back to me. I also like to think of myself as part of the team — not the big, bad wolf. I’m here for teachers and parents, but I’m also here for students as well. I don’t want them to think that because, ‘I went to talk to her, I’m in trouble.’ I’m just one more support for them as well, and I’m just excited to be in Jackson. I’m thrilled, it’s so exciting. There’s so much opportunity.
“Opportunity is our key word this year… With a positive mindset, we’re also saying, ‘What if?’ Instead of saying, ‘We don’t have a hot lunch program,’ say, ‘What if we had a hot lunch program?’ ‘What if we could have a cold option’ and ‘What if we got to hire someone to come help us?’ The sky’s the limit…”